Monthly Archives: September 2007

growing on with it

I was very happy to hear today that my Mum, who’s taking a break at the moment, managed to engender a visit from the local fire brigade as a result of her demonstrating how to cook scones in an electric frying pan, in the dining room. Good for you, Mum. Apparently the facility hadn’t had a fire drill in the last couple of years (!!!) and they managed to get everyone out in five minutes. Previously they’d had a false alarm in the middle of the night and things were something of a shambles. Practice makes perfect. So all’s well etc, but no news about the scones. Hey Mum – what about the scones?!

Wreck on the south coast

Apparently Wellingtonians have been saved from an awful fate as the National Aquarium plans have been sunk, thanks to the Environment Court. Disappointing. I hope that the guy who trotted out the dead seahorses as evidence of cultural significance is satisfied – they seem to have done their job.

I don’t understand how a project of this scale is able to be sunk given that:

The proposal had been backed by the Conservation Department, two prominent local iwi bodies, and two marine education specialists.

I’d like to think it wasn’t small mindedness, or some petty attempt to NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) the project and that, ‘It’d be ok as long as it was on some other section of coast…’

I’ve kept aquaria for many years, including marine aquaria. I’ve been to public aquaria in places like London, Townsville, Melbourne, and Sydney, and of course, Kelly Tarlton’s in Auckland and Marineland in Napier. They seem to be able to provide a happy balance education, entertainment, and employment; and there’s sure room for more of all of that here in Wellington. Also, given that the essential nature of caring for the inhabitants of an aquarium is entirely about ecosystems, balance, and responsible management; the subsequent environmental impact from the actual running of an aquarium would be given continual consideration.

Ok, so the council liked it, DOC liked it, two iwi liked it, educationalists liked it, a chunk of Wellingtonians liked it, and damn it, even the environment commissioners were not totally opposed to all aspects of it. And yet it sinks. I can only assume the voices who complained so bitterly have their reasons. Could it be…?

simple solutions are best

I’ve been away for the last couple of days sorting out some of my past lives. It’s alternatively hilarious and tragic, but almost always enlightening. Often the discoveries about me, myself, and I come thundering in and give me a whomp and I’m amazed at how this stuff happened around me and I didn’t notice, didn’t know, didn’t catch on, and/or didn’t care.

The most recent learning was to discover that when I was a child I lived with my parents and siblings in a tiny village – today a slightly fashionable widening in the road, then it was a little wider, but a lot less fashionable. There was also a magazine – I’m guessing tabloid (later: actually broadsheet – 17 x 22 inches – about twice the size of tabloid) in size – that had a dusky pink cover – the Auckland Weekly News.

According to my sister, there was a family who lived in this little town, and they never traveled in their car without a supply of Auckland Weeklys. Apparently, they would tear out pages from the magazine, and throw them out the car window as they drove along in order to frighten the elephants away.

I didn’t see any elephants driving up or back. Damn effective I’d say. I believe the Auckland Weekly News ceased publication in 1963.

The child is father to the man

mini-meI’m trying to be not disturbed by the fact that about 45+ years later I have the same hairstyle, heading back towards the same hair colour, I still look at cameras over my shoulder, I still wear jerseys with a vest thing, and I still wear headphones – waiting, now, not for the kid’s session on the radio, but for skype to get its act together. Or, every day in the office, keeping the office hubbub down to a manageable buzz. Karma. Not calmer.

No, Timmy, I did not have a pet dinosaur…

kerbside recycling - it's a good thingI’ve had cause lately to go into tidy-up mode. You know the drill; dig out boxes of fascinating and valuable stuff you stored away, only to find that mildew and mutant dust bunnies are the only life forms with an interest in your collection. Apparently in the late 1980’s I decided I’d put down a kind of time capsule of paper with a vast collection of print materials relating to the computer (mostly Apple II I should add) but there’s a fine selection of other gems as well.

I don’t want you young’uns missing out on the excitement – this from Compute! (that was a magazine, darling) from February 1988.

Superconducting supermicrocomputers probing super CDs jammed with information. Computers so portable that they become inseparable from the user, always ready to access information the instant it’s needed.

What information will these computers be working with? Maybe all of it.

The information revolution has accomplished many things, not least of which is the generation of more information. We’re drowning in the stuff, with new volumes appearing every minute.

How do we sort through these universes of data, shaping their contents to our own needs?

What the author (Keith Ferrell) is leading up to is ‘Hypertext: Here, There, And Everywhere’ (pp. 26, 28). And what Keith is wrestling with ‘macroindexes’ loading up from Vannvar Bush’s (no relation) article As We May Think leading on to memex a kind of microfilm precursor to USENET. This provoked Alan Kay (and others) at Xerox PARC to think (and act) on dynamic books – dynabook, which nudged Apple CEO John Scully to activate a concept: Knowledge Navigator – and the truth is, memex, dynabook, or knowledge navigator – they’re founded on hypertext – a word author Ted Nelson coined back in the 60s. Yes, Timmy, the 60s.

Keith then spirals off into how you might magic up information about Elvis. All of it without leaving your desk. And then he kind of gets the breakfast cereal of the today – tagging. Remember, this is 1988. Keith captures the mechanics of tagging, but who could’ve foreseen the elegant understatement of:

As computers become more universally linked and able to intercommunicate, everything tagged by one user on one computer will be available to other researchers on other computers. The pathways through knowledge that we can follow can, in turn, be followed by others, who may reach far different conclusions than ours.

Nice, Keith, nice. He goes on to explain hypertext, and then interestingly slips his visionary hat back on – he writes about the potential hypertext systems, electronic libraries bringing closer and more immediate contact between researchers from all disciplines, and tagging; as well as risks. Check this –

Will we witness the transition of disciplines away from continuous bodies of knowledge and toward conglomerations of snippets, of patterns and associations rather than continuity and flow?

Well, yes, Keith, I don’t think there’s many bodies of knowledge that haven’t been dismembered, and those that have resisted are those that are not written in English. Keith wraps with a couple of comments worthy of further consideration:

To be effective, any index must serve as a discriminating guide, an intelligent if not interactive interface between the user and a mass of information. The promise of hypertext is that of true interactivity, yet it carries the risk of being completely without discrimination.

As with any new or emerging technology, hypertext will require us to bring our own abilities, our own discrimination and intelligence. With those human tools, and these new technological tools, another level of the information revolution is already being shaped.

What did happen was we gave up on the concept that humans would be able to manage the mass of information, and instead we created Googlebots in our own image, and send them forth to discriminate on our behalf. Interestingly, in another article in the same magazine (pp. 54-55), Dr David Thornburg (associate editor) in The Power of Hypercard, Part 2 (bare in mind Apple had just begun shipping Macs with hypercard) observes:

In many ways HyperCard suggests that the personal computer revolution has just begun in earnest.

Well, Dave, time will tell. But I think you’re probably right.